Not all sport utility vehicles are used exclusively for carpooling, nor are all pickup trucks destined to carry building materials. The most rugged of the bunch also are eager to venture far from the pavement and tackle the toughest off-road trails.
If you’re looking for a used truck or SUV that’s more courageous than a people-mover or typical hauler, we’ve compiled a list of 10 true off-road warriors from the 2013-2015 model years. We’re specifying which trim level and/or features provide maximum traction. For starters, that means finding a vehicle with a burly four-wheel-drive system that includes “low range” gearing. That’s what’s needed for crawling over rutted trails and getting unstuck from deep snow or mud.
1. Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
The SVT Raptor is the sportiest and most off-road-ready rendition of the Ford F-150 full-size pickup. Tuned by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), it’s built for Baja-style off-road racing. It’s able to traverse loose dirt trails and go fast in the process, thanks to a powerful V8 engine that’s shared with Ford’s heavy-duty trucks. Off-road enhancements include an electronic 4×4 transfer case, modified front and rear differentials, and specific axle ratios. It’s available in both extended SuperCab and four-door SuperCrew configurations, though the SVT Raptor was not produced for the 2015 model year.
2. Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
A more civilized alternative to a rough-and-tumble off-roader, the Jeep Grand Cherokee nonetheless exhibits an adventurous attitude. A great choice for off-road use is the top Summit trim that includes the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive setup and Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system. The latter features selectable modes for maximum traction over mud, snow, rocks and sand. An adjustable-height suspension affords maximum ground clearance, while a Selec-Speed Control system makes tackling steep hills easier.
3. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Coming in two- and four-door versions, this is the descendant of the original troop transporter from World War II. The Jeep Wrangler may be one of the least accommodating rides on the road, but away from the pavement, it excels with standard four-wheel drive. The Rubicon versions have the tallest ride height and are engineered to be the most off-road capable. They’re available with either a cloth convertible top or a removable multi-panel hardtop. Even the doors can be taken off for a full open-air effect.
4. Land Rover Range Rover
You may not think of taking a costly luxury vehicle out to get scuffed up over a wooded trail, but as with the rest of Land Rover’s lineup, the venerable Range Rover is more than adequately off-road capable. (Fortunately, it’s far more affordable in the used-car market.) No matter which version you choose, low-range gearing with electronic traction control and a Terrain Response system, which maximizes performance over various surfaces, give it superior trail-blazing abilities. An adjustable air suspension enables it to wade in water up to 3 feet deep.
5. Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Here’s another expensive SUV that can handle challenging off-road adventures. The boxy and militaristic Mercedes-Benz G-Class comes opulently equipped and packs a hearty V8 engine in the base G550. The top G63 AMG version is able to run as fast as a sports car. Its off-road prowess is bolstered by three electrically controlled locking differentials and a sturdy ladder frame and rigid axles, among other enhancements.
6. Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
The midsize Nissan Frontier shares its sturdy body-on-frame architecture with the Nissan Titan full-size pickup. Available in either extended King Cab or four-door Crew Cab models, the V6-powered PRO-4X model is the most capable version. It comes with a standard 4×4 system, high-pressure Bilstein shock absorbers, an electronic locking limited-slip rear differential and specific off-road alloy wheels with BF Goodrich off-road tires.
7. Nissan Xterra PRO-4X
Now gone from Nissan’s lineup, the midsize Xterra is an old-school truck-based SUV. As with the Frontier pickup, it performs best off-road in its PRO-4X version. It comes with a V6 engine and a standard part-time 4X4 system. An electronic locking rear differential, gas-filled shock absorbers, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist enhance its abilities away from paved roads.
8. Toyota 4Runner Trail
The midsize Toyota 4Runner has been around since 1984, and it remains a beefy truck-based SUV. The top Trail trim shines off-road with a tall ground clearance and a part-time 4×4 system. Toyota’s Crawl Control system is standard and works like low-speed cruise control over uneven topography. A Multi-Terrain Select system manipulates wheel slippage to maximize traction as needed. Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control systems are included for traversing steep grades.
9. Toyota Land Cruiser
One of the first Toyotas to be sold in the U.S., the full-size Land Cruiser SUV excels as both a family car and an off-roader. Powered by a V8 engine, it comes with a full-time 4×4 system with a limited-slip locking center differential. Also on hand are Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control, and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems. An Off-Road Turn Assist feature effectively tightens the vehicle’s turning radius by engaging the brakes on the inside rear wheel to create a vectoring effect.
10. Toyota Tacoma TRD
The midsize Toyota Tacoma pickup is particularly playful when equipped with the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) Off-Road package. It’s available with 4×4 V6-powered models and includes an electronic-locking rear differential to help minimize wheel slippage. It also gets a specific off-road suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a 28-millimeter front stabilizer bar and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control systems also are included.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.